God of Pain: A Grumpy Sunshine College Romance
There’s someone out there.
The sound of their harsh breathing slips from outside the room, going up and up in staccato, resembling a trapped injured animal.
A feral animal.
My eyes fly open and I stumble out of bed, smoothing my hair so it falls to my lower back. Then I tug down on my purple sleep shirt that barely covers my ass.
Shadows linger in the corner, twisting and groaning like starved beasts. The only light comes from the balcony bulb that I always leave on. I don’t reach out to the lamp’s switch or even attempt to touch it.
Something tells me that if I shed light on whatever animal is lurking out there, the situation will diverge in an ugly direction.
My steps are inaudible, which comes naturally to me. But the remaining calm part doesn’t.
It’s impossible to control the tremors that slash through my limbs or the sweat that trickles down my back, making my shirt stick to my overheated skin.
This isn’t right.
My brother’s mansion should be the safest place on campus and the second safest on earth after our home back in New York.
It’s why he insists I spend certain nights here. I don’t meddle in his business, but I know what those nights entail—mayhem, chaos, the butchering of poor souls.
So the best place to keep me protected is right under his wing with a dozen guards watching me.
You know that ivory tower Rapunzel stayed in? My room in the Heathens’ compound—my brother’s anarchy-infested club—is the personification of that.
Hell, there are even guards beneath the balcony, so even if I actually attempted to climb down the tree, they’d be the ones to catch me. They’d scowl, grunt, and report my actions to both my brother and my father.
On the bright side, however, I’m protected. I’ve been protected since the day I was born into the Volkov family.
And I am a Volkov.
I nearly laugh at the shiver of fear that refuses to be purged from my system. I don’t know about anywhere else, but I’m safe here.
Okay, whatever is lurking out there, you better be some injured bird or something trivial. Otherwise, be ready to die.
The balcony curtains flap inside, the white material soaked in the color of the night and the dim light.
I pause once I’m a few steps away. Did I open the balcony door last night?
No. No, I didn’t.
The logical approach would be to turn around and run to the door, call for my brother or any of his men, and hide in my gilded cage.
But here’s the thing.
My toxic trait is curiosity, like I really can’t sleep at night if I don’t satisfy that thirst for knowledge.
The spacious room with its fluffy pillows, purple sheets, glittery wallpaper, and everything glam and pretty slowly fades to the background.
The soft light from the balcony is my only compass as I take a step forward.
Fate works in mysterious ways.
Ever since I was little, I’ve known that I wouldn’t always be a sheltered little princess fighting for her family’s approval. That one day, something would come for me when I least expect it. I just didn’t know what it would be or what it would entail.
I sure as hell didn’t think it’d start in my brother’s mega-secured, guard-filled mansion.
The moment I reach a hand to the half-open glass door, a dark figure slowly slides inside.
I jump back, slapping a hand to my chest.
If I hadn’t seen the slick movement through my balcony sliding door, I would’ve thought this person—a man, judging by his build—was cut from the night.
He’s in all black. Sweatpants, a long-sleeved shirt, shoes, gloves, and a half-smiling, half-crying mask.
A shiver snakes beneath my flesh as I stare at the details of the mask. The crying half is black and the smiling part is white. The mixture of both is creepily haunting.
All of him is.
The bleak color of his clothes doesn’t conceal the bulging of his muscles beneath the shirt or reduce the sheer power of his quiet presence. He’s someone who works out, his chest filled with planes of muscles and a defined abdomen, but he’s not bulky.
Just muscular enough to exude power by merely standing there.
He’s also tall. So tall that I have to crane my head to take in the entirety of him.
Well, I’m a bit on the short, petite side. But still. I don’t usually have to go to such an extent to look at people.
We stare at each other for a beat, like two animals before they go at each other’s throats.
The two holes in the creepy mask serve as his eyes, which are dark, but not black or brown, more like the darkness of the ocean.
And I latch onto that color, to that disruption of the black aura. It’s also my toxic trait to see the good in people, to not let the world harden me until I can no longer empathize with anyone.
It’s a promise I made to myself when I figured out what type of world I was born into.
My limbs continue trembling, the rhythm matching my skyrocketing heartbeat.
Still, I force my super cheerful, super casual tone. “You might want to leave before the guards find you—”
The words die in my throat when he advances toward me.
One imposing step at a time.
So, remember the fact that his presence has power? I’m witnessing the effects of it firsthand.
I was wrong.
It’s not only power; it’s intimidation in its purest form.
An ocean that’s groaning and roaring to release its wildness.
I don’t even notice I’ve stepped back until he advances again. This time, I stand my ground and stare up at him. “As I was saying, you should probably go—”
His chest nearly collides with mine as he swiftly kills the distance between us. Warmth mixes with something spicy and the smell of soot. Was he near a fire or something?
He steps forward again and I automatically step back. Either that or I let him crash into me and sweep me over like a tornado.
“Seriously, do you know whose house this is?” My voice is no longer cheerful and has long since matched the shaking of my limbs. “Do you have a death wish—”
I’m not ready for what happens next.
In a flash of movement, he slams his gloved hand against my mouth and shoves me back.
My spine hits the wall with a jerk and I yelp, but it’s muffled. The sound echoes in the air with the spookiness of a haunted lullaby.
The mask rests a few inches from my face like an episode from my deepest, darkest nightmares.
It’s accentuated by the proximity of his body against mine and the strong leather smell.
It’s all I can breathe.
And he’s all I can see. His eyes are indeed blue, but they’re black-rimmed.
Like a mythical creature.
I’ve seen these eyes somewhere. But where?
Is it wrong that I want to see what’s beneath the mask? To just pluck it off and find out if he’s the crying or the smiling half? Maybe both?
The longer I watch him, the more my breath hitches and his warmth seeps into my bones.
No. It can’t be.
It’s simply not who I’m thinking about.
Just to make sure, I lift a hand to his mask, fully expecting him to swat it away.
To my surprise, he doesn’t make a move. My fingers slide over the edge of the frozen smile. But I don’t see it as petrifying anymore—it’s just a cover for someone.
A monstrous edge.
A conundrum of feelings.
Is it you? I ask with my eyes, and his slightly narrow in return.
So I try to peel off the mask, but before I can do so, he shoves my hand away. It falls limp by my side, but I’m almost sure my hunch is correct.
I don’t know about anything else, but I would recognize these eyes anywhere, including in an alternative universe.
A bang comes from outside.
We both go still.
It comes again, and I realize it’s on the door of my room.
“Miss, are you awake?”
The Russian-accented voice comes again, coupled with another bang. “There has been a breach in security. Are you okay?”
I meet the masked stranger’s eyes.
No, not a stranger.
He’s way more than a stranger.
I’m still shaking, but it’s for a completely different reason.
“Mmm,” I let out a small, muffled sound.
He tightens his hold on my mouth, sweeping into my space with the sureness of a hurricane. My breasts brush against the hardness of his chest with every inhale.
“Miss? I’m coming in.”
I grab hold of the intruder’s arm and implore him with my eyes. He narrows his to slits but slowly slides his hand from my mouth. He keeps it hovering, ghosting close, probably to shut me up again if I scream for help.
But that’s the thing, I don’t need help, because he’s not a threat.
Or at least, he wasn’t in the past. I’m not quite sure in this situation.
“I’m okay!” I say loud enough for the guard to hear. I’m surprised I don’t stammer or sound nervous, considering the situation.
The door opens a bit, but it remains in that position as the guard’s voice drifts in. “I’m coming in to make sure, miss.”
“Don’t! I’m… I’m naked.”
The clearing of a throat comes from the guard and I can almost imagine his flustered face. He knows his head would be on a stick if he saw me nude.
Unless my life was in jeopardy.
Which isn’t the case.
I don’t think.
“I’m really cool. I’m going back to sleep now. Don’t wake me up.”
Silence for one, two, three seconds—
“Very well, miss. If there’s anything, the boss will come to see you.”
The door closes and I release a long breath.
My next inhale causes my chest to brush against the not-stranger, and I pause, staring up at him.
“The boss he just mentioned is my brother, and I can’t keep him out with the ‘I’m naked’ excuse. He’ll just come in, eyes closed, pick up a sheet or something, and throw it on me, then do his search. He’s brutal like that, so you really want to go before he comes if you don’t want to have ‘Beaten to death’ written on your tombstone. Oh, also, are you going to stay glued to me for a long time? I might seem cool, but it’s actually hard to breathe when you’re around.”
He stares at me blankly, absolutely not impressed nor derailed by my word vomit. It’s a habit I’m trying to get rid of, but it’s actually harder than it sounds.
“What are you waiting for?” I whisper. “Seriously, go before Jeremy shows up. If you came through the balcony door unnoticed, then return the same way. And uh, maybe give me my space back sometime soon?”
He reaches a gloved hand to my face and I think he’ll shut me up again, but his fingers wrap around my jaw.
It’s not threatening, but power simmers beneath the gesture.
No, not power.
He oozes with it to the point of suffocation.
His thumb strokes my bottom lip and it parts, just like that.
My heart hammers, and I think maybe I’m dreaming or something.
Maybe I’ve conjured so many scenarios in my twisted brain that one of them is actually coming true.
Otherwise, why would he touch me when he never has before?
And he’s not just touching any part of me. It’s my lips.
Is he going to kiss me?
Before the thought is fully formed, his rich, deep, and absolutely familiar voice rings in the air.
“You talk too much. One day, this mouth will get you in trouble.”
Then he releases me, steps back, and slips out the balcony door as easily as he got in.
My limbs finally fail me and I slide down the wall and to the floor.
There’s no doubt about it.
My fingers touch where he did a second ago. Well, he had a glove on, so it wasn’t a direct touch, but it still counts, right?
Only, now, my lips quiver and my heart falls in disarray.
It is him.
The one I shouldn’t want.
|September 17, 2022
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